I wouldn’t be as audacious as to claim Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of Nottingham’s great unread authors. Although there is a Nottingham link as I discovered when I read the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes stories on a recent holiday. Charlie Peace, the Banner Cross murderer, fled to the Narrow Marsh area of the city to escape the police where he fell in love with Music Hall singer Susan Bailey, who would eventually dob him into the police and collect a Hundred Pound Reward. Peace is one of the few ‘true life’ criminals to be named in a Sherlock Holmes story, appearing as the ‘violin virtuoso’ in The Illustrious Client (1927). So there’s your six degrees of separation.
My binge reading of the Victorian sleuth was in preparation for a talk at World Book Night at Central Library exploring Holmes enduring popularity. I can summarise my 45 minute thesis in under 45 words: He was a charismatic smart arse who loved an adventure and pushed himself to extremes in his quest for truth. The fact that he was flawed, asexual, and known to dabble in various vices made him someone you instinctively cared for.
Sherlock Holmes has featured in four novels and 56 short stories. They are all narrated by Dr John Watson except for The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier (1926) and The Adventure of the Lion’s Mare (1926) which are narrated by Holmes. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. But it was the serialisation of short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia (1891) that cemented his popularity. When he was finally killed off in The Final Problem (1893) there was uproar on the streets of London with fans wearing black arm bands in mourning. Doyle kept Holmes off of the page for eight years before eventually caving into public pressure and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901) was born.
There are now Sherlock Holmes societies spread across the globe, with the first set up in 1934 and still running today. In 2002, Holmes was given an honoury fellowship by the Royal Society of Chemistry for his use of forensic science and analytical chemistry in popular literature. He is the only fictional character to be honoured with such a status and is a bit like giving Arthur Seaton an honoury degree in Restaurant, Food and Beverage Management for his services to quenching pay day thirst.
After my talk I got chatting with some readers and was particularly intrigued by one teenager. He had never read a Holmes book before and wanted to learn more after watching the popular BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Holmes has been played by over 200 people, a record for a fictional character, and just goes to show the important role that films and TV can have in triggering an interest in reading. Similarly, if the library didn’t put on events such as this then potential new readers could have been lost.
There are many routes that lead us into reading. This is why I opted for a digital graphic novel to tell the story of Dawn of the Unread as it is a medium than reluctant readers are more comfortable with. If I can engage them through our interactive content and social media and provide enough details about our featured authors, this may raise enough intrigue for them to go on to read physical books and become lifelong readers.
We will also be hosting talks by our commissioned authors at libraries across Nottinghamshire with the hope of meeting similar minded young readers who want to discover more. These are being organised by Joel Strickley, author of How To Write Badly Well, and are scheduled for July onwards. Please watch this space or follow @nottslibraries & @readingnottm for news on other talks
- World Book Night (worldbooknight.org/blog)
- World Book Night Success! (rbkclibraries.wordpress.com)
- The Personal Blog of Dr. Jon H. Watson (johnwatsonblog.co.uk)
- Is Sherlock Holmes a Tory? (blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harrymount)
- Revisiting the Guy Ritchie Holmes Films (girlmeetssherlock.wordpress.com)
- Charlie Peace: An Old Friend of Sherlock Holmes? (sherlockpeoria.net)
- Charlie Peace Cultural Capital (charliepeace.blogspot.co.uk)
- 11 Authors Who Hated the Movie Versions of their Books (mentalfloss.com)